Laws Against Sexual Harassment At Workplace

Published on 09 Aug 2017 by Team

Getting a job is tough if you are a woman in India. For many, though, finding one is only the beginning of the nightmare. Like in other parts of the world, sexual harassment at work is a serious concern in the country. India did not have any complete law to protect women against sexual harassment at workplace until 2013 when the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act”) was enacted by the Parliament which came into force in December 2013.

Vishakha Case

The Vishakha judgment, an offshoot of a rape case involving a social worker in Rajasthan, brought to the attention of the Supreme Court of India that there was an urgent need to formulate effective measures to check the evil of sexual harassment of working women at all workplaces. Zia Mody in her book, Ten Judgements that Changed India, considers the judgment as one of the landmark judgments of the supreme court. The apex court noted that every instance of sexual harassment is a violation of 'fundamental rights' under article 14, 15, and 21 of the Indian Constitution. In the judgment, the apex court formulated guidelines regarding sexual harassment at workplace. These Guidelines, the court stipulated, are to be implemented until legislation is passed to deal with the issue.

Vishaka Guidelines  

Defining Sexual Harassment- sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behavior (whether directly or by implication) as:

 a) physical contact and advances; 

b) a demand or request for sexual favors'

c) sexually colored remarks'

d) showing pornography; 

e) any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

Employers Duty - It shall be the duty of the employer to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment and to provide the procedures for the resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts, of sexual harassment by taking all steps required. The employer should take the following steps.

  • The employer should notify, publish and circulated in appropriate ways, the provisions of sexual harassment as mentioned above.

  • Appropriate work conditions for leisure, health, and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at work and no one has any ground to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment. 
  • Where such conduct amounts to a specific offense under the Indian penal code the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law by making a complaint with the appropriate authority. 
  • Where such conduct amounts to misconduct in employment as defined by the relevant service rules, appropriate disciplinary action should be initiated by the employer in accordance with those rules.

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013

While Vishaka judgment came out in 1996, it was only in 2013 that the Parliament enacted Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. The year 2013 is significant also because of criminal law amendment act, 2013. Both these legislations were an immediate reaction to the unfortunate and very serious incident of sexual harassment that jolted the nation in 2013.

  • The act borrows heavily from the Vishaka guidelines but incorporates several other features to check the menace of sexual harassment at workplace.
  • The definition of "aggrieved woman", under this act is extremely wide to cover all women, irrespective of her age or employment status, whether in the organized or unorganized sectors, public or private and covers clients, customers, and domestic workers as well.
  • The act requires an employer to set up an 'internal complaint committee' at each office or branch employing 10 or more employees, to hear and redress grievances pertaining to sexual harassment.
  • At the district level the government should set up Local complaint committee to investigate regarding sexual harassment from establishments where internal complaint committee is not constituted on account of establishments have less than 10 employees or if the complaint is against the employer.
  • The Committee is required to complete the inquiry within a time period of 90 days. On completion of the inquiry, the report will be sent to the employer or the District Officer, as the case may be, they are mandated to take action on the report within 60 days.

Criminal Liability

The Indian Penal Code was amended in April 2013 to include a new section pertaining to sexual harassment of women. The Criminal Law Amendment Act has introduced section 354A which enlist the act which constitutes sexual harassment and prescribe a penalty for such act. An offense of sexual harassment is punishable by imprisonment of up to 3 years and/or fine.

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